Monday, November 19, 2018

10 Rules for Middle Grade Novelists

Not long ago Johnathan Franzen wrote a list of 10 Rules for Novelists, and writers all over Book Twitter had things to say about it. Following that same thread, let’s take a look at the idea from the perspective of middle grade writers.

1 - Remember there aren’t any magic formulas or checklists you have to follow. If you come across advice that seems useful, sure, give it a try. Ultimately though, you have to do what works for you. 

2 - Focus on where you are in the now. Don’t spend too much time looking longingly at what you hope could be the next step you reach on this never-ending staircase of writing and publishing. If you think too much about why the things beyond your control haven’t happened yet, you will carve out your own personal spiral down the darkest and smelliest of rabbit holes. 

3 - Remember that the publishing world has one of those light-speed time differential things going on. What might seem like endless weeks or months to you as you wait to hear back about query letters or manuscript requests, or submissions, is the everyday passage of time for the people on the other side of your waiting. They aren’t trying to tie you in knots; they’re just doing their jobs and living their lives. (The opposite of this could also be true if you ever end up with tangible writing deadlines in front of you and the calendar seems to flip forward at double speed.)

4 - Read a lot of middle grade books. Find the ones that reach you the most. Enjoy them for what they are, and think about why they work so well for you. Try to figure out why you connect to those stories and what you can do about that as a writer. 

5 - Don’t just read middle grade. Read all over the spectrum, and soak in everything you can that will help you find your best voice.

6 - Write every day or don’t. It doesn’t matter. If you have the luxury of being somewhere in life that allows you to make that choice, figure out what kind of schedule works best.

7 - Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that all you need to do is insert dragons or graphic-novelly illustrations or robots or narwhals or fart jokes into your work to guarantee it will have wide middle grade appeal. Be genuine. 

8 - Please don’t underestimate middle-grade readers. They are absolutely merciless when it comes to abandoning books they don’t find interesting. Seriously. It takes most of them mere paragraphs before they decide.

9 - End your chapters with good mini-cliffhangers. Teachers around the world will appreciate this. It makes read aloud time much more engaging, and fills the classroom with disappointed groans every time the story has to stop.

10 - Remember what your true, core reasons for writing in the first place are. No matter what successes you ever have along the way, you’re going to have setbacks and disappointments, too. Some of them will be absolutely crushing. Knowing your reasons to write will give you the purpose to keep moving forward when that happens. 


WendyMcLeodMacKnight said...

Love this Tom!

Mirka Breen said...

Love "there are no rules" rule #1-- :P

Shari Green said...

This is fabulous! Thanks, Tom!